What have we done in siding with Evan McMullin?

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FILE - Conservative presidential candidate Evan McMullin speaks to his supporters during an election night watch party after Republican Donald Trump won Utah, in Salt Lake City on Nov. 8, 2016. McMullin, a newly empowered independent who's been backed by the Democrats, is running against Sen. Mike Lee who is up for reelection. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)
FILE - Conservative presidential candidate Evan McMullin speaks to his supporters during an election night watch party after Republican Donald Trump won Utah, in Salt Lake City on Nov. 8, 2016. McMullin, a newly empowered independent who's been backed by the Democrats, is running against Sen. Mike Lee who is up for reelection. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

Last weekend’s cold rainy Saturday matched the mood inside Cottonwood High School, where the State Democratic Party’s primary convention lurched its way toward a schism that will likely last for years.

Evan McMullin is a conservative Republican and Never-Trumper who switched to independent status in an attempt to deny Trump the presidency in 2016. He failed, but as a conservative, Utah-born Mormon, he attracted a lot of attention here.

Recently, McMullin has courted other independents and moderate Republicans to support him in his bid to form a new party or at least a faction inside the Republican Party. But Trump remains too powerful and Republicans are too timid to oppose him. As an apparent last resort, he convinced a few high-ranking, influential Utah Democrats to back him in a run against Sen. Mike Lee. Led by former Congressman Ben McAdams and Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson, the growing coalition spread the idea that no Democrat could possibly win against Lee and that their best bet to defeat him was to back a conservative independent.

We already had an outstanding, strong candidate in Kael Weston, who received 37% of the vote in his run against Chris Stewart in 2020. Extrapolate that to the entire state and consider that McMullin’s candidacy may be more likely to split the Republican than the Democratic vote. But McMullin believes he’s the one who couldn’t win if he had to compete with Weston, and so he convinced enough Convention delegates to kick Weston off the ballot.

Kael Weston
Kael Weston

The only goal shared by McMullin and Democrats is defeating Mike Lee. Otherwise, this self-professed conservative holds the same beliefs and principles as Lee and has announced that if elected he won’t caucus with either Party, rendering him of absolutely no use to us. National media like the Washington Post and CNN seem to think this is a “Good Thing.” But a great many Utah Democrats, including me, aren’t so sure. Some people dismiss our opposition to McMullin as simply a determination to support only Democrats, do or die. It's more complicated than that and has to do partly with mandates in our own governing documents, but more importantly, he doesn't represent our values.

If McMullin wanted our support, the right way to earn it would have been to campaign and debate other candidates. Instead, in the weeks before the state convention, he crashed county conventions and caucus meetings, often showing up unannounced and uninvited with an entourage distributing slick posters and fliers. Convention delegates were inundated with emails, phone calls, and expensive campaign literature that promised results but was vague on details. How his campaign got their contact information isn’t clear.

When he catered to Republicans in 2016, McMullin was right in line with most of their talking points. In trying to attract Democrats, he claimed goals that mirrored ours, although now that he has our commitment, as the hosts of KSL At Night radio news suggest, he’s already beginning to distance himself. Here are just a few of the very many issues that divide us. See www.ontheissues.org/Evan_McMullin.htm and isidewith.com for more details and links to sources. McMullin is on record as opposing Planned Parenthood, the Paris Climate Agreement, federal minimum wage, Obamacare, federal regulations mitigating climate change, subsidies for wind power, additional regulations on firearms, labor unions, transgender girls on girls’ sports teams, universal pre-K education. He supports fracking, off-shore drilling, nuclear power, school choice vouchers, replacing VA health care with personal savings accounts, and drug testing welfare recipients.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) questions witnesses at the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources meeting on July 28, 2021, discusses overtourism in national parks.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) questions witnesses at the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources meeting on July 28, 2021, discusses overtourism in national parks.

State Party Chair Diane Lewis, in an interview on KSL at Night radio news, seemed utterly unprepared for the consequences of the Party’s actions. When asked about future difficulties in attracting candidates for office, her answer was “I can’t tell you that.” I can. “Difficult”?! Try “impossible”! She didn’t know whether Democrats would consider a McMullin victory a win for them, and she implied that McMullin supporters may have packed the convention with like-minded delegates (another reason to abandon the caucus/convention system). Her most disturbing comment was, “I don’t know how that is going to work, and until we, until the McMullin campaign reaches out to us and we have a meeting and discuss it, oh, gosh, I don’t know.” (Sound familiar?) The Party leadership must have known this was in the works. Didn’t anybody think about what it meant?

The Party’s missteps have left many feeling betrayed, disenfranchised, powerless, and wondering whether Utah Democrats really understand the concept of democracy. Many are leaving the Party, withdrawing financial support, and planning not to vote for any senatorial candidate. I don’t think those who planned this saw this coming. I’ll join other disaffected Dems withholding contributions and leaving that part of the ballot blank, but I don’t think resigning is the best option. Working on the inside to change things is more productive than standing outside the door yelling about grievances. Don’t drop out. Help us make sure this never happens again.

Leigh Washburn is a member of the Iron County Democrats.

This article originally appeared on St. George Spectrum & Daily News: Your Turn: What have Utah Democrats done in siding with Evan McMullin?